(I wanted to practice creating a saturated blog post full of outside media, and this is a topic I am passionate about. Enjoy!)
Michael Highland’s video “As Real As Your Life” struck a chord with me. In the video, he discusses his gaming addiction and the appeal of video games to the younger generations. I consider myself a gamer, though I’m not an addict. I appreciate video games as both an escape for me and a creative platform for the creators, and believe they are much more than a sum of their parts. I have friends who’ve studied game creation, my friend Brad is currently a level designer working for Gearbox Software, and through them I have seen bits and pieces of the sheer amount of work that goes into creating a game. Game design goes far beyond writing and programming.
In the video, Michael says, “Unlike any pop culture phenomenon before it, video games actually allow us to become part of the machine… we are interacting with our entertainment.” This is the quintessence of the appeal video games have. You no longer have to watch your entertainment as an outsider; instead, you become a pivotal part of the storyline. Without you, there is no story. Personally, my favorite games are open world games, like the Elder Scrolls series, and survival horror games, namely the Silent Hill series, which have solid storylines surrounding the main character and his/her actions.
If I may go off on a tangent for a moment, Michael was a bit mistaken by saying no pop-culture phenomenon has allowed us to become a part of it. Remember those choose-your-own-adventure storybooks? I was addicted to my Give Yourself Goosebumps set when I was younger. While this isn’t total immersion, you were still able to have a say in what happened during the story. There are also choose-your-own-adventure videos popping up now and again on the web. An excellent survival horror video on YouTube is Survive the House. (WARNING: this is addictive, please don’t use it to procrastinate.) I’m assuming this interactive video concept was modeled on the idea of video games, but I still wanted to include it as an example of other media that you interact with.
But, I digress, let’s get back to video games.
Michael says, “The beauty of video games today lies not in the lifelike graphics, the vibrating joysticks, or virtual surround sound; it lies in that these games are beginning to make me emotional.” For those of you who aren’t gamers, here’s a screenshot from Skyrim, the most recent Elder Scrolls game.
It’s easy to see why Michael uses the terms “beauty” and “lifelike graphics,” but how is this not the main appeal of the game? I’m horrible at hiking, but I could spend hours doing nothing but exploring the forests of Skyrim, picking flowers and mushrooms and watching the wildlife. (In fact, I have spent hours doing just that. I’m not telling you how many.) Of course this is appealing, but this isn’t the main element that keeps gamers coming back for more. This, Michael says, lies outside of the physical and visual elements of the game and is buried in the emotional elements.
Games are like movies in the sense that they use a storyline to create an emotion in a player. Just as a sappy chick flick can make someone bawl their eyes out, a video game can make a player cry. This emotion has the potential to be even stronger in games because the level of interaction is higher. If you are watching a mystery and see a man crying over his murdered son, you might feel empathetic and cry along with him. Imagine you are controlling a man who is searching frantically through a crowded mall for his lost son, only to find him and watch him run in front of a moving car. This is what happens in the opening scene of the game Heavy Rain. (Warning: some language.) For someone who finds himself immersed in a game, it’s easy to get emotional over events like this.
Sadness isn’t the only emotion brought on by games. What about pride? Envy? Anger? In an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) someone can easily feel all of these emotions, brought on by the stats or weapons another player has. Even in single-player game you can feel pride when your character gains a high rank in a group, steals an expensive item, or kills his first dragon (depending on your goal). Basically, the emotions caused by triggers in-game are just as real as emotions triggered by events in real life.
Looking at all of this from a writers perspective, video games are definitely another writing space. They are usually overlooked as such, but you will rarely find a video game without at least a basic script or storyline. Even Adventure for the Atari 2600 (widely considered to be the first action-adventure game), which consisted of a square and some dragons that looked like ducks, had a storyline that needed to be conceived and written. (I can’t resist adding this: you can play a flash version of the game online. I’m not going to post a link because I’ve already promoted rampant procrastination once in this post, so you’ll need to search for it yourself.)
As a writing space, with all of the emotional and mental ties that go along with that distinction, video games can be dangerous. Michael hints at this in his video as well. He says, “Today I believe Big Brother would find much more success brainwashing the masses with video games rather than just simply TVs.” This is a terrifying thought. However, isn’t there some level of “brainwashing” going on in every game to an extent?
Whether they tell you that scary monsters hide in shadows (Silent Hill, Amnesia: The Dark Descent), how to properly cook a meal (Cooking Mama, Personal Trainer: Cooking), or when it’s okay to use violence in social situations (most games rated Mature), there is always a level of learning that we undergo when playing a game that doesn’t register as “real learning.” If people couldn’t learn real lessons from video games, why would the US Army be using games to help train soldiers? Not only can soldiers learn about language and culture through games, they can also learn “the art of battle command” and simulate the artillery they will be working with. These lessons are easier to learn through a game than through reading or watching videos because the consequences of soldier’s actions work into the outcome. My point is that if your mind is open to a game’s message, that stuff can stick with you.
Of course, this isn’t to say game creators are purposefully hiding things in their games and waiting for players to notice on a subliminal level. Or are they?
Cheers, and happy gaming!